Fish Sauce: The Secret Ingredient in Cooking

What is Fish Sauce?

When it comes to cooking, we all know the importance of having the right ingredients. From herbs and spices to oils and sauces, every component plays a crucial role in creating a delicious meal. However, there’s one ingredient that often goes unnoticed, yet has the power to take your culinary creations to the next level – fish sauce. This pungent and salty condiment may not sound appetizing at first, but when used correctly, it can enhance the flavor of any dish. Whether you’re making stir-fry, marinades, or even salad dressings, it can add depth and complexity to your recipes. In this article, we’ll explore the origins of fish sauce, its nutritional benefits, and how you can incorporate it into your cooking. Get ready to elevate your taste buds and impress your guests with this secret ingredient – fish sauce.

History & Background

Fish sauce is a condiment commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It is made by fermenting fish with salt, resulting in a pungent, savory liquid. With a distinct umami flavor and it is often used to enhance the taste of various dishes, providing a salty and slightly sweet note.

It has been a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine for centuries. It is believed to have originated in Vietnam, where it was known as nuoc mam. The sauce is made by fermenting fish with salt. Sometimes other ingredients are added, such as sugar or spices. The fermentation process can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the desired flavor and consistency. It is also popular in other countries such as Thailand (nam pla), Cambodia (teuk trey), and the Philippines (patis).

Originally it was used as a way to preserve fish during the hot and humid summer months. However, it quickly became a popular condiment due to its rich umami flavor. The sauce was used to add depth and complexity to a variety of dishes, from simple stir-fries to complex curries. Today, it is widely available in grocery stores around the world. It is used by home cooks and professional chefs alike.

What form does it come in?

Fish sauce comes in liquid form, usually in a bottle or a jar. The color can vary from light amber to dark brown, depending on the type of fish used and the length of the fermentation process. Some fish sauces may also contain herbs, spices, or other flavorings.

Premium Fish Sauce

Made from premium quality salted anchovies – perfect for use in soups, stews and marinades.

Perfect for Asian cooking.

Contains anchovy, sea salt, water and sugar.

23.66 fluid ounces of flavor in a resealable container.

How is fish sauce made?

The process of making fish sauce typically involves layering small fish, such as anchovies or small mackerel, with salt in a container. The mixture is then left to ferment for an extended period, usually several months. During fermentation, enzymes and bacteria break down the fish proteins, releasing liquid and creating the flavor profile we have come to know.

It is a key ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, such as Thai green papaya salad (som tam), Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham), and Cambodian sour soup (samlor machu). Also, it is often used as a seasoning or a base for marinades, dressings, and stir-fry sauces. It adds depth and complexity to dishes and is prized for its umami-rich flavor.

There are different varieties of fish sauce available, varying in quality and taste. Some brands may add additional ingredients like sugar or preservatives, so it’s essential to read the labels if you have specific dietary requirements.

Is fish sauce good for you?

Is fish sauce healthy? It is a good source of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium. It is also low in calories and fat. This makes it a healthier alternative to other condiments such as ketchup or mayonnaise. However, you should be aware that it is high in sodium. Therefore it should be used in moderation, especially for those with high blood pressure or other health concerns.

Flavor Profile of fish sauce

It has a strong, pungent aroma that can be off-putting to some people. However, when used in small amounts, it can add a savory and salty flavor to dishes. Described as having a “umami” flavor, it also has a savory taste that is often associated with meat and mushrooms. The sauce can also have a slightly sweet or sour taste. This depends on the type of fish used and the length of the fermentation process.

Cooking with fish sauce

It can be used in a variety of dishes, from simple stir-fries to complex curries. Here are some tips on how to use it in your cooking:

  • Use it as a marinade for meat, poultry, or seafood. The saltiness of the sauce will help to tenderize the meat and add flavor.
  • Add it to stir-fries, soups, and stews for a savory flavor. Start with a small amount and adjust to taste.
  • Use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, dumplings, and other appetizers.
  • Add a splash of it to salad dressings for a savory and salty flavor.

It is a key ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes. Here are some popular dishes that use it in their ingredients:

  • Pad Thai: A popular Thai dish made with stir-fried rice noodles, vegetables, eggs, and a sweet and savory sauce made with fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar.
  • Bun Cha: A Vietnamese dish made with grilled pork, rice noodles, and a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili.
  • Green Papaya Salad: A refreshing salad made with shredded green papaya, tomatoes, and a dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili.
  • Tom Yum Soup: A spicy and sour Thai soup made with shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and a broth made with fish sauce.

Fish Sauce recipe ideas

Fish sauce substitutes

If you don’t have fish sauce on hand, there are several substitutes that you can use such as Soy, Worcestershire, or Oyster Sauce.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what other ingredients you can use in place of fish sauce.


It may not be a well-known ingredient in Western cuisine, but it is an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. From its origins in Vietnam to its popularity around the world, it has a rich history and a unique flavor profile that can enhance any dish. Whether you’re making stir-fries, marinades, or even salad dressings, it can add depth and complexity to your recipes. So the next time you’re in the kitchen, don’t be afraid to reach for the fish sauce and take your cooking to the next level.